With movies such as Crimes of the Future dealing with elaborate scenes of viscera, body horror, and the subject of the human monster, horror movies seem to be getting more and more complicated with each passing film. Granted, there’s undoubtedly an audience for the more complex entries in the genre, but there’s also an art to keeping things simple and straightforward.
Not all horror movies need a psychological dissertation, a long-winded plot, or even assistance from the supernatural or paranormal to be scary. Sometimes the most terrifying horror films just need evil people doing evil things or a group of victims faced with a threat of potential death and disaster.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper’s slasher classic has cultivated something of a splattery reputation amongst some circles, often being regarded as one of the most unsettling horror films in the genre. that being said, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre truly not as gruesome and gory as some viewers might suspect. However, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t earned its infamous status.
A movie about redneck cannibals turning people into barbecue is pretty scary on paper, and to say that many famous scenes of the film aren’t unsettling would be untrue. But it maintains this description using a shoestring budget, creative set work and cinematography, and surprisingly little in ways of bloodshed.
If there’s one thing everybody takes away from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, it’s the massive shark that’s lurking in the water. Based on the novel by Peter Benchley, the way one singular great white nearly ruins the town of Amity Island is certainly movie-worthy.
The horror simply comes from the almost entirely unseen shark lurking in the waters. However, the real villains of the story are the mayor and his crew who don’t close the beaches while a hungry predator lies in wait in their waters. “You yell ‘shark’ and we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.” are words that condemn several swimmers to a watery grave.
Art imitates life, and that’s a phrase that can be exceptionally said of Stephen King’s forced-proximity thriller, misery. As a reflection of the author’s struggle with a combative and critical audience, both the book and the movie display that sometimes the biggest fans can be the harshest critics. And that’s not always a good thing.
misery falls on the shoulders of two people, Paul Sheldon (James Caan) and Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Annie is a deranged fan of her favorite author’s work, and she proceeds to make him write for his life after reading the manuscript of his final novel. It’s such a simplistic scenario, yet it evokes some of the most frightening performances seen in the genre.
To Catch A Killer (1992)
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and the movie To Catch a Killer is a prime example. This TV horror movie relies not on graphic depictions of violence and nudity, nor does it need a deranged Kathy Bates or a giant shark. All it needs to do is reveal the actual narrative of the John Wayne Gacy case to a captivated audience.
Although it’s primarily billed as a biographical account of a real crime case, the movie presents the case in a way that would be ideal for a dramatic horror production. Simply put, it’s a cinematic take on one of the most terrifying crimes in American history.
Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Similar to the previous entry, Silence of the Lambs draws from actual FBI cases for its inspiration. While this one is a horror movie first and a crime drama second, it feels more grounded in reality with its use of forensic agents, investigation techniques, and focus on the crime-solving nature of the plot.
It’s the sense of reality that keeps this film from going too over the top. Thomas Harris did pull from the actual Ed Gein case, after all. Even with Anthony Hopkins’s unforgettable portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, this is still a grounded production that is just chilling enough to maintain its horror status.
Would You Rather (2012)
Would You Rather takes the human motivations of money, fear, and hunger, and combines them into one incredibly unsettling dinner party that will make several viewers squirm in their seats. It’s one thing to see a masked maniac inflict acts of violence on a pitiful victim, but it’s another to watch them do it themselves.
The movie is like a more controlled and tasteful saw, as a sadistic benefactor played by Jeffery Combs invites an ensemble of victims in need of money to play his own death game for his twisted amusement. Semi-realistic, yet embellished enough to warrant the need for incredibly styled performances.
hushu could be considered what would happen if Mike Flanagan directed John Carpenter’s Halloween. It takes the core elements of a masked killer and a final girl home alone but puts them in a film that plays with the audience’s senses of sight and sound in a way that only heightens the intensity of a home invasion.
The film’s protagonist, Maddie, is deaf and the film’s audible environment uses that to convey its environment and its scares. It’s a sensory game of cat and mouse that relies on atmosphere rather than a spectacle to achieve its fear factor. Escape is the name of the game.
The Devil All The Time (2020)
As stated previously, sometimes the scariest horror movies are just about evil people doing evil things. The Devil All the Time is a southern gothic that deals in exactly that, and viewers essentially have their pick of twisted storylines concerning a variety of unsavory characters in the American south.
Serial killers and sinister ministers are the order of the day in this star-studded Netflix original, all connected with brilliant storytelling and little to no reliance on jumpscares, pandering, or special effects. At its core, it’s a character study of twisted individuals and the crimes they commit. All the audience can do is sit back and watch.
Green Room (2015)
The idea of a punk-rock band locking horns with a group of Neo-Nazis in a rotten old bar might sound like a gripping action movie on paper, but Green Room delivers some seriously compelling and nail-biting terror as the band fights for survival.
The simple nature of the plot is a wrong-place-wrong-time scenario with a group of people who kill first and ask questions later. The reality of the threat is what truly sells the story, even if it does feature a truly terrifying performance from Sir Patrick Stewart.
My Friend Dahmer (2017)
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, My Friend Dahmer peels back the curtain and serves as the comic-book origin story for one of America’s most infamous serial killers. Both the novel and the film come from the real-life account of John “Derf” Backderf, who grew up and went to school with Dahmer as a young man.
The horror comes from both the psychological terror presented in the film and the knowledge of Dahmer’s fate. Watching the unsettling and unstable young man who would go on to commit his infamous murder spree is akin to watching the fuse on a bomb burn away, knowing it’s only a matter of time.
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